Different Exams Used to Help Diagnose Epilepsy

The wide variety of epilepsy disorders makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose and treat. There are three main types: generalized, focal, and drug-resistant epilepsy. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain instead of one specific area. These seizures are often hard to identify. Focal seizures have a specific focus on the brain responsible for causing them. These seizures can be identified by analyzing electroencephalograms (EEGs).

You must examine the brain and spinal cord to properly identify a condition. Doctors use various brain imaging methods, including MRI, CT scans, and EEGs. After that, some types of epilepsy are diagnosed by observing changes in the patient’s condition. Here are the different exams used to help diagnose epilepsy.

1. Neurological Exam

The neurological exam measures the patient’s body functions to rule out other conditions. The exam takes several different forms. Physicians use a patient’s history of seizures to determine if there is any other cause for them besides epilepsy. Also, they check muscle strength by asking the patient to perform simple movements, such as lifting an arm. If there are no abnormalities observed on an EEG, doctors may consult with an epilepsy specialist and conduct some additional tests.

2. Blood Tests

Blood tests are used to rule out other disorders. They are also used to check for common conditions that can cause seizures. Some of these conditions can be diagnosed by blood tests alone. Other conditions need more extensive testing, such as a lumbar puncture or a spinal tap done through needles going into the back.

3. Electroencephalogram

An EEG records how brain waves of different frequencies go through the brain. Doctors use EEGs to assess the abnormalities in a person’s brain. A patient is fitted with electrodes to record the brain’s electrical activity. Some patients need blood taken throughout the test to see if their body will react to certain medications, so an IV is often necessary. The EEG may last anywhere from 15-90 minutes and is not very painful for most patients.

The doctor may use an EEG headset or EEG machine to get a more accurate picture of the brain. This method allows a doctor to evaluate the brain with greater detail, especially if they suspect seizures in some areas. The test uses electrodes placed on various parts of the scalp over areas that elicit seizure activity.

4. Computerized Tomography Scan

A CT scan shows a detailed picture of the brain and the surrounding bones. It gives a doctor an accurate image of the brain, which allows them to determine if any abnormalities can be causing seizures. A CT scan uses X-rays to display different areas in cross-sections so you can examine them more clearly. The patient will lie still on a table as the machine passes over their head.

5. Magnetic Resonance Imaging

An MRI scan is another method used to examine the brain. This test combines high-strength magnets with radio waves to produce detailed images of internal structures. The patient will lie still on a table as the machine passes over their head. CT and MRI scans are useful for diagnosing patients who have experienced a seizure and need brain surgery and those who have had head injuries that may cause seizures in the future.

6. Positron Emission Tomography Scan

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to obtain more accurate brain images. The patient will be injected with a radioactive drug by a special scanner. The scanner takes pictures of the brain in detail and then analyzes the images. This test helps doctors determine which sections of the brain need more medical attention and which areas may need to be taken out completely if they are causing seizures. PET scans are also good for determining how a person’s neurological condition affects their body. Some disorders cause neurological problems that affect organs outside the brain.

7. Neuropsychological Tests

Neuropsychological tests are used to determine a person’s mental strengths and weaknesses. Epilepsy patients will take these tests after receiving a diagnosis or before surgery to see if their condition will cause any cognitive problems in the future. These tests measure basic functioning, such as memory, attention span, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities.


Doctors can use several different types of tests to diagnose epilepsy. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks, but they all give doctors a more detailed picture of the brain to determine if there is any damage or abnormalities. Many of these exams require the help of other professionals, so physicians work with other people during the process. Doctors consult with each other and epilepsy specialists to come up with a list of potential diagnoses.

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